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HELPING FOSTER CARE YOUTH PREPARE FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING
"Hillary and I, and this Administration, have made it a priority to help America's most vulnerable children...We cannot afford to give up on the future, and these young people are America's future – and our shared responsibility."
President Bill Clinton
Tuesday, December 14, 1999
Today, at the White House, President Clinton, joined by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, will sign a landmark law to help foster care youth prepare for independent living. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 will help ensure that young people leaving foster care will get the tools they need to make the most of their lives by providing them better educational opportunities, access to health care, training, housing assistance, counseling, and other services. This new law, based on an initiative proposed by the President and the First Lady, is the latest example of the Clinton-Gore Administration's longstanding commitment to children and families.
Challenges Faced by Foster Care Youth. Nearly 20,000 young people leave foster care each year when they reach age 18 without an adoptive family or guardian. Without the emotional, social, and financial support that families provide, many of these youth find themselves unprepared for life on their own. Studies show that within two to four years of leaving foster care, only half of these young people have completed high school, fewer than half are employed, one-fourth have been homeless for at least one night, 30 percent do not have access to needed health care, 60 percent of females have given birth, and fewer than one in five are completely self-supporting.
Providing New Hope. Under previous laws, federal financial support for young people in foster care ended just as they were making the transition to independence. The new law President Clinton will sign today authorizes $700 million over five years to help these young people cross this critical bridge. The law:
- Doubles funding for the Federal Independent Living Program, which helps older foster care children earn a high school diploma, participate in vocational training or education, and learn daily living skills, and renames the program in honor of John Chafee, the late senator who championed the needs of children;
- Requires states to serve youth up to 21 years old, enabling more young people to obtain a college education;
- Enables states to provide financial assistance to these youth as they learn skills to enter the workforce; and
- Allows states to extend health insurance coverage under Medicaid for foster care youth to age 21.
A Record of Commitment to Foster Care and Adoption. Today's new law adds to the Administration's record of promoting the well-being of children and providing them permanent, loving homes. Other actions by the President to improve child welfare and encourage adoption include:
- A 40% increase in the Transitional Living Program, which funds support services for homeless adolescents;
- Enacting the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which removed adoption barriers and provided the first-ever financial incentives for states to increase adoptions;
- Making adoption affordable by offering tax credits for families adopting children;
- Allowing parents to take time off with a newly adopted child without losing their jobs or health insurance;
- Removing racial and ethnic barriers to adoption through new provisions which ensure that the adoption process is free from discrimination and delays due to race, culture, or ethnicity;
- Giving states flexibility and support to test innovative strategies for improving their child welfare systems; and
- Using the Internet to find homes for children waiting to be adopted from foster care.
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